(WAVY) — When Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced on Tuesday that he will retire from racing after this season, it will close a chapter on one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR history.
Earnhardt rose through the ranks, winning consecutive Busch series titles in the late 1990’s. Then he made the move to the Cup series and with it, instant notoriety.
“My father tells me that’s the way it is and how it’s going to be,” Earnhardt told WAVY in 2000. “I’m fine with that. It’s just going to take some getting used to and I’m trying to be as accessible as I can to the press.”
In a sports littered with drivers that tote the company line, Earnhardt was your everyday man. He was accessible to the press as well as his fans. His easy going demeanor and honesty helped him win NASCAR’s most popular driver award 14 times.
Of course, having the name Earnhardt did not hurt. When Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed at the 2001 Daytona 500, it was Dale Jr. that the fans gravitated to. In his first race at Daytona following his dads death, Junior scored an emotional win, but it was his victory at the 2004 Daytona 500 that was his crowning moment, and he owed it to his father.
“He’s done so many great things here, I had the best teacher in the world,” Earnhardt said following the win. “It’s just great to win the Daytona 500, it’s the best race I’ve ever won. This is the greatest day of my life.”
In 2008, Earnhardt left Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and made the move to Hendrick Motorsports. Never a Cup champion, Earnhardt did rack up 26 career victories, but since 2012, he’s missed 20 races because of concussions.
“To be able to make that decision myself on retiring and not have it made for me, I feel healthy,” Earnhardt said today.
One of the last of NASCAR’s country boys, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will remain in NASCAR. His Junior Motorsports teams runs in the Xfinity series.
With retirement on the horizon, Junior seems to be content with his career after he hangs up the wheel.
“I’ve accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I thought I would ever accomplish. I’m good on that front. I’m so blessed and fortunate as far as what I was able to achieve.”
The Dale Earnhardt Jr. reunion tour begins this weekend in Richmond.